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Community House honors 'Unsung Heroes,' Feb. 25

Local families who opened their hearts and homes to black students attending Princeton University in the late 1960s and early 1970s will be honored at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, during a reception at the Fields Center.

The University's Community House is sponsoring the "Unsung Heroes" event, which is free and open to the public, in recognition of Black History Month. The ceremony will recognize 10 couples that formed the Princeton University Parent Sponsor Program, a volunteer group that acted as "foster parents" to black students to provide them with a support system while attending Princeton from 1966 to 1972.

"We wanted to honor those who had the fortitude to share their homes and lives with students so they could feel comfortable on campus and in the greater Princeton community," said Marjorie Young, director of Community House.

President Emeritus Robert F. Goheen, who led the University when the parent program began, will attend the reception and give opening remarks. Some of the families and alumni who participated in the program will return to campus for the event, which will feature a presentation of certificates to each family, written remarks from President Shirley M. Tilghman and a closing speech by Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life.

For the past three years, Community House has organized the "Unsung Heroes" reception -- sometimes in partnership with the Princeton Public Library -- to honor African American residents of the Princeton area who have served as role models or community leaders.

"We started honoring unsung heroes to acknowledge people who in their own way have contributed to the community through their professions, community service and life example," Young said.

She said the Feb. 25 event is an extension of Community House's work over the past 38 years to bridge gaps between the University and disadvantaged people of color in the Princeton area through community service and social justice projects. Community House works with volunteers to offer mentoring and tutoring; health awareness training; English as a second language; academic enrichment and summer programs; and other services to students and residents in the local area.

"It's very fitting for us to honor people who are role models and have a real legacy of service with Community House, and have demonstrated a commitment to the Princeton University student through their involvement in our programs," Young said.

The 10 couples who will be recognized this month for their participation in the Parent Sponsor Program are: James Floyd Sr., who became Princeton's first black mayor, and Fannie Floyd; Lankford Bolling, deceased, and Aurelia Bolling; Fred Burrell, deceased, and Doris Burrell; Floyd Campbell, deceased, and Consuelo Campbell; George Geary and Helen Geary, both deceased; Chester Peterson, deceased, and Burnetta Peterson; Al Price and Terry Price; David Taylor and Helen Taylor, both deceased; James Ward and Mary Ward, deceased; and Howard Waxwood and Susie Waxwood, both deceased.

The Parent Sponsor Program began in the fall of 1966 when Carl Fields, the first African American dean at Princeton and in the Ivy League, paired the families with 14 freshmen after some black students told Fields their studies were hampered because they felt isolated on the mostly white campus.

Retired lawyer and Baptist minister George Bates, a 1976 University alumnus who will speak at the reception, nominated the families to be recognized by Community House as unsung heroes. By the time Bates arrived on campus, Fields had left Princeton to work at the University of Zambia under a Ford Foundation Fellowship, and the formal parent sponsor program ended, but Bates said many of the families who had participated continued to provide a "home away from home" for black students.

"From the agape love of these black families has grown a thriving populace of 3,800-plus black Princeton University alumni," Bates said.

Daphne Campbell Williams, who worked as Fields' assistant and is the daughter of Consuelo and Fred Campbell, said black students benefited socially and academically by having a support system within the greater Princeton community.

"It was a time when a number of black students enrolled at the University felt out of place," said Williams, who will attend the Community House ceremony honoring her parents. "The families provided a connection between the University and the African American community, much like Community House does now."

The public is invited to attend the "Unsung Heroes" reception from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 25, at the Fields Center, 86 Olden St. The event will feature food and music, including a solo sung by Kenny Grayson, second cousin of the late Fields and a foreman at the University electric shop. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP to Community House by calling (609) 258-6136 or e-mailing house@princeton.edu by Tuesday, Feb. 20.

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